As a book lover, I’m all ears when National Public Radio interviews an author. Often, I grab a pen and paper and jot down a title to put on my Christmas wish list.
And being a Catholic writer, I frequently look for the Catholic and Christian perspectives that come from the books I read.
Recently I heard an interview with the author and illustrator of a children’s book and got that familiar “I’ve got to have that book” feeling.
What better Valentine gift for my new granddaughter than a contribution to her budding library? So, I dashed to the bookstore where there was only one copy left of “Last Stop on Market Street.”
Matt de la Pena is the author, Christian Robinson, the illustrator. The story line is sweet and simple: an African-American boy riding the bus with Nana, his grandmother.
Like a beautiful painting, a simple child’s tale can have multiple layers of meaning. This nicely illustrated children’s book gives you much to think about.
Lots of people in our country ride public transportation. But, living in the suburbs most of my life, I almost never ride buses. When my kids were little, we went on a bus ride as a special adventure, not a daily occurrence.
In some ways, our country can be separated into those of us who ride public transportation and those of us who don’t, or don’t have to. There’s a lot of diversity we miss out on as we drive down the freeway in our cars.
The boy in the book complains about the rain, about his friend who gets to ride home in a car, about not having an iPod like some other kids who get on the bus.
Nana points out the positives on their journey.
In the interview, the author said that so many kids today, exposed to so much advertising, develop an “I want, I want, I want” mentality.
The grandma presents the other side of the coin: “You have, you have, you have.”
That’s our role as Christian parents, isn’t it?
The book takes place on a Sunday morning, and Nana and the little boy get on the bus right after walking out of church. (Spoiler alert: Their destination, the last stop on Market Street, is a soup kitchen in a poor part of town, where they help to serve Sunday lunch.)
They have moved, not just metaphorically but literally, from the church steps into service.
Intentionally or not, the book gives the best illustration of what Christianity is all about. We worship together, and then we are sent into the world, directed into the service of others. Church is never just about my private relationship with God. It’s always about asking, How do you want me to serve you?
What a nice Lenten resolution it would be to take our children, or grandchildren, who so frequently are overindulged and succumb to the culture’s entitlement mentality, and bring them to a shelter, a soup kitchen, a food pantry, and let them help out for a day. Let them interact with people they might never have a chance to meet, people who have much to teach them.
Jesuit Father Greg Boyle, who started Homeboy Industries to work with people in the gangs of Los Angeles, tells us we should take it a step further, to move from service to solidarity. We should connect with those we serve, move to “a place of kinship, where your feet are in the right place.”
Service and solidarity — two lessons of Lent that our children would be fortunate to learn.